Westchester officials call for children's treatment center to close due to hundreds of police calls

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, July 13, 2023
Westchester officials call for closure of children's treatment center
Officials are demanding the closure of a children's treatment center at JCCA's Westchester Campus after hundreds calls about dangerous conditions.

PLEASANTVILLE, Westchester County (WABC) -- Westchester County officials are demanding the closure of a children's treatment center after hundreds of police calls about dangerous conditions.

Authorities say Mount Pleasant police responded to 459 calls at the JCCA's Westchester Campus in the first six months of this year alone.

Of the calls, 248 of them were for missing persons. Police also responded to the campus for assaults, vandalism, violent fights, and suicide and self-harm threats.

"This center is a tremendous drain on Mount Pleasant's police and ambulance services and these emergency service calls routinely consume hours of our officers' days," said Chief Paul Oliva, Mount Pleasant Police Department.

Officials say the JCCA doesn't have the staff to cope with the residents who have severe behavioral and psychological issues.

Michelle Iovanella says her 15-year-old daughter Destiny was attacked by other residents and hit over the head with a frying pan at JCCA's Westchester campus last month.

"They said they had the services for her, so I put her there and that was the worst thing I could have ever done," Iovanella said.

JCCA says staff at its treatment center is not legally allowed to intervene without security.

"It is clear that the JCCA does not have the necessary and qualified staff to cope with residents who have severe behavioral and psychological issues," Town Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said at a press conference. "The fact that the Town received 248 missing persons' calls in 180 days is just one indication that the JCCA staff is incapable of ensuring the safety and whereabouts of JCCA residents."

Fulgenzi said the failure results in a tremendous burden on emergency services.

Town officials claim JCCA has failed to up its security to address these issues, but a staff member who spoke anonymously disputed that.

"I feel safe because of the amount of security in the facility," the staff member said.

But it's the crime now spilling out and into the surrounding community that has police even more concerned.

JCCA is licensed as a residential treatment center. It operates an open campus model so residents come and go as they please.

"The government is responsible for creating and supporting models of care that are productive and New York is not doing that," said JCCA CEO Ronald Richter.

Richter said for a year now he has been asking the state for a better model to deal with a small portion of its more than 150 children who have serious behavioral issues. But he says closing is not the answer.

Destiny's mom says although not easy, it might have to be.

"Yes because it's dangerous but where will my daughter go," Iovanella said.

Eyewitness News reached out to the state's Office of Children and Family Services who released this statement:

"The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) continues to work closely with JCCA to ensure it is effectively providing a supportive and secure environment for youth in foster care placed with their organization. JCCA has a longstanding history of serving these young people, especially those who require complex services as the result of chronic exposure to trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). OCFS partners with the State Office of Mental Health (OMH) toensure that the mental health needs of these vulnerable young people are met to protect their well-being and that of others. Community safety is a top priority and OCFS is exploring options to transition youth whose needs may be better served through placement in alternate programs."

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